PETA to Pet Shop Boys: Roll Over

PETA has finally gathered up the courage to ask the Pet Shop Boys to change their name. Explaining that pet shops often treat animals cruelly, the group suggests that the PSB consider a more critter-friendly name, like Rescue Shelter Boys. It's not clear why PETA has waited more than 20 years to make this request, though I suspect it wanted to preempt an Onion headline that's just been waiting to be written. So what will be the next step in the campaign to remove animal cruelty from musical monikers? Asking Brian Wilson to change Pet Sounds to Animal Companion Sounds?* Hounding bands like Dogs Die in Hot Cars, Psychedelic Furs, and the Meat Puppets? MoJoer Lauren Rice proposes that Meat Loaf rechristen himself Cruelty Loaf. Or Textured Vegetable Protein Loaf. Presumably Cat Power and Animal Collective are off the hook. But just to be safe, the reunited Phish may want to rename itself Sea Kittenz.

*Nonspeciesist Beach Boys makeover after the jump.

Image by Wikimedia Commons user Beaucoupkevin used under a Creative Commons License.

Chart of the Day - 4.10.2009

Via Felix Salmon, this chart shows how much overdraft charges cost you.  The bar on the left (labeled POS) is from point-of-sale debit card overdrafts.  Here are the numbers: the average overdraft is $17, it's paid back in an average of five days, and the average charge is $35.  Result: you're paying $1.94 for every dollar "borrowed."  You'd probably need scientific notation to figure out the APR.

But here's the kicker:

When debit cards first came into common use, they promised the convenience of a credit card without the cost, because debit card users were required to have the funds in their account to cover their purchase or withdraw cash. As recently as 2004, 80 percent of banks still declined ATM and debit card transactions without charging a fee when account holders did not have sufficient funds in their account. But banks now routinely authorize payments or cash withdrawals when customers do not have enough money in their account to cover the transaction, so debit cards end up being very costly for many account holders.

Italics mine.  This is just so you understand how deliberate this strategy is.  The banks could easily decline NSF transactions.  They used to.  But they don't anymore because the fees from inadvertant overdrafts are so lucrative.  Alternatively, they could charge reasonable fees, since the actual administrative cost of overdrafts is minuscule these days.  But they don't.

And who pays these fees?  Small account holders with modest incomes, of course.  That's the modern banking industry for you.

The Decline of Fearmongering

In 1950 Joe McCarthy had in his hands a list of 205 communists.  In 2009 Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.) has in his hands a list of 17 socialists.  Conservatives really have lowered their sights over the past half century, haven't they?  It's kind of sad.

Legal Citizens Nabbed By ICE

The Center for Investigative Reporting on Rennison Vern Castillo, a U.S. citizen and veteran held for months after immigration officials mistakenly took him for an undocumented immigrant:

After domestic disputes with a girlfriend, he was convicted in 2005 of felony harassment and violating a no-contact order, and was sent to Pierce County Jail in Washington state for eight months. He was in a holding area with inmates about to be released when a corrections officer held him back.

Castillo was handcuffed and whisked off in a van to the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma. A federal officer said records showed he was an illegal immigrant.

[Snip]

Castillo went before an immigration judge, who appeared via video conference, a common procedure in the crowded immigration court system. Again, he claimed citizenship. The judge didn't believe him. He was ordered deported on Jan. 24, 2006.

ICE says cases like Castillo's are extremely rare; human rights organizations say otherwise. But the real value of a story like Castillo's lies in the picture it paints of how clumsy, disorganized and overburdened our immigration courts can be—just one indication of the need for immigration reform. A database of all legal citizens and legal aliens doesn't exist, and those suspected of being an undocumented immigrant don't have the right to an attorney during their hurried hearings.

This week, the Obama administration outlined, albeit broadly, its proposal for immigration reform, which would include a national database to check the immigration status of workers. That would, at the very least, be a start; cases like Castillo's would probably diminish completely if such a database were created. But it's only one of the problems of our broken immigration system.

Obama says he wants to take on the issue this year, a move one anti-immigration advocate said would be "politically disastrous." But the question of what to do with our undocumented immigrants—a bloc whose population shrank last year but still numbers 12 million people—is so contentious I doubt there's ever a good time to tackle it. The looming census complicates the issue even further: Parts of the right have already accused Obama of wanting to pass immigration reform before 2010 to create new Democrat-friendly districts with heavy Latino populations. They forget, though, that Latinos aren't a Democratic monolith.

This Bloomberg story is a nice compliment to Dan and my story from yesterday.

Dan and I reported that over 100 former congressional staffers and executive branch employees -- including some extremely well-connected people -- have left public service and are now lobbying on behalf of the zombie banks being kept afloat by your tax dollars. Despite Obama's efforts to change the revolving door culture of Washington, the huge gobs of money being handed out by the federal government these days means the Capitol Hill/K Street connection is more prevalent than ever. As Bill Allison of the Sunlight Foundation told me when we were reporting our story, "It has not gone unnoticed by special interests or K Street firms that there is a bonanza there."

It hasn't gone unnoticed by former congressmen and senators, either. According to Bloomberg, a full one-quarter of lawmakers who retired or were defeated in 2008 have moved to K Street. There is absolutely no concern anymore for the ethical questions that move creates. Bob Kaiser, author of So Damn Much Money: The Triumph of Lobbying and the Corrosion of American Government, gave me a great bit of historical context on this when I did a Q&A with him in March. I find it fascinating. I think you might, too.

Goldman's Capital

From the Wall Street Journal:

Goldman Sachs Group Inc., riding a rising market, is considering making a multibillion-dollar offering of its shares to investors as part of an effort to repay a $10 billion government loan, according to people familiar with the matter.

...In October, the Treasury Department forced the nation's largest banks, including those that didn't need additional capital, to take government funds. Goldman received $10 billion....Goldman executives privately say the firm doesn't need new capital to pay back the loan but doing so would signal its financial health.

Let's not shilly shally here: I don't believe a word of this.  If Goldman could pay back the loan, which they only received six months ago, they'd just do it.  Conversely, there's simply no way they'd try to raise private capital in the worst environment for stock offerings since the Depression unless they really needed the money.  What they say "privately" to the contrary isn't worth the paper it's not written on.

Documenting Hypocrisy

In the Washington Post today, Paul Kane and Shailagh Murray wrote this:

Democrats are sure to incite Republicans if they adopt a shortcut that would allow them to pass major health-care and education bills with just 51 votes in the Senate, where Democrats are two seats shy of the filibuster-proof margin of 60 seats. The rule, known as "reconciliation," would fuel GOP charges that Obama has ditched bipartisanship.

"If they exercise that tool, it's going to be infinitely more difficult to bridge the partisan divide," said  Sen. Olympia J. Snowe (Maine), who was one of three Republicans to support the economic stimulus plan.

Media Matters took them to task for failing to note that Republicans themselves — including Snowe — have used reconciliation in the past, most notably to pass George Bush's 2001 tax cuts.  The lefty blogosphere piled on, and this afternoon, in an online chat, someone asked Kane if he wanted to defend himself.  He replied:

Paul Kane: I'm sorry, what's to defend?

Someone tell Media Matters to get over themselves and their overblown ego of righteousness. We reported what Olympia Snowe said. That's what she said. That's what Republicans are saying. I really don't know what you want of us. We are not opinion writers whose job is to play some sorta gotcha game with lawmakers.

That's what columns and blogs are for. Look, Republcians will take reconciliation as a serious poison pill to Obama's so-called bipartisan/post-partisan era. The Republicans did this, in the most direct correlation, with welfare in the mid-90s. And Democrats took it as a vicious partisan maneuver.

That's what is happening, that's what we reported.

Feisty little devil, isn't he?  But here's the question: are Post reporters obligated to mention past Republican support for reconciliation every single time they quote a Republican who now opposes it?  Here's the Post's history over the past couple of weeks: they ran a roundtable on the subject in March that gave space to all sides; Shailagh and Kane themselves wrote a feature about reconciliation last week which dutifully pointed out that Republicans have used it in the past; and over the same period there have been several other pieces in the Post that mentioned reconciliation in passing, some of which brought up previous Republican support and some of which didn't.

Is that kosher?  Or does it need to be included in every single story?  I'm hard pressed to believe that it does, any more than, say, Barack Obama's primary opposition to a healthcare mandate needs to be religiously brought up every time a healthcare story mentions the subject.  Or, more to the point, the fact that Democratic opposition to reconciliation when Republicans were running the show has now morphed into support.  Let's face it: if reporters are required to spotlight every single instance of hypocrisy whenever they quote a politician, there won't be room in their stories for anything else.

So, sure, reporters ought to hold Republicans like Snowe accountable.  But I'm not sure I see the case for insisting that they have to do it in every single piece they write.  It's a history of one-sidedness that's a problem, not the fact that some stories contain more detail and context than others.

By the way, Kane's entire online chat is worth a read.  His answer to the reconciliation question wasn't a sudden outburst of spleen against liberals.  He gives as good as he gets with everyone.  Besides, anyone who refers to Alberto Gonzales as "Fredo" can't be all bad.

(On the other hand, his answer to the question about defense spending was pretty incoherent. He definitely seemed a little unclear on the concept.)

Social media, that dastardly upstart of a content type, is a little like a cocktail party: occasionally interesting and usually full of people you sort of know. Social media aggregators, on the other hand, are more like boozy pubs: entertaining and loud.

Forthwith, 10 links this week from Digg and Reddit that I found informative and deliciously strange. This (and every) week's meme: the internet! Think of social media aggregators as newspapers that report on the internet as if it were a place. That's right, kinda like a bar and kinda like a newspaper. Enjoy.

1) Does anyone else feel like despite the vastness of the internet you just visit the same 4 or 5 sites over and over?

2) Trent Reznor explains the music industry.

3) Is it immoral to review leaked copies of The Wolverine movie?

4) Hey, Bill Gates has a Facebook page!

5) Should Obama control the Internet?

6) The dark side of Dubai.

7) Yes, the Internet sucks on April 1. Every year.

8) Chewbacca chord. Hilarity ensues.

9) Hungover in London? Have I got a bacon cure for you. 

10) Just cuz it reminds me of the Homeward Bound movie..

First, there were all of those "slanty eye" photos that circulated during the Beijing Olympics. Not okay. Then teen uber-sensation Miley Cyrus thought it would be funny to pose thusly, and it still wasn't (she apologized, twice). A regrettable trend, but maybe one that we could chalk up to athletes caught up in the moment and Hannah Montana-ness?

Well, today Texas state Rep. Betty Brown suggested (out loud, during House testimony) that Asians should adopt names that are “easier for Americans to deal with.” (There's no accompanying photo of her making slanty eyes, that I have seen.) Brown was responding to testimony from Ramey Ko, a representative of the Organization of Chinese Americans, who was explaining to legislators the challenges Asian Americans face in voting and in obtaining identification because their legal transliterated names are often different from a common name they use on official forms. Brown thought she would help out:

“Rather than everyone here having to learn Chinese — I understand it’s a rather difficult language — do you think that it would behoove you and your citizens to adopt a name that we could deal with more readily here?...Can’t you see that this is something that would make it a lot easier for you and the people who are poll workers if you could adopt a name just for identification purposes that’s easier for Americans to deal with?”

Wow. So helpful. You must have suggested that because you have helpfully shortened your own name from Elizabeth (long and full of syllables, I know) to the much more accessible, Betty. And Brown is a color, and one syllable, and so easy to say, like Bush! But Betty, if your name weren't Brown, but instead you (or your husband) descended from a long line of, say, Bartholomews, what a pain in the ass that would be if you ever wanted to become a poll worker, huh?

Miscellany

Here are two miscellaneous factlets that have caught my eye recently.  First up is On The Public Record, who is reading The Resilient City: How Modern Cities Recover From Disaster:

DAMN!  Cities NEVER give up.  Like, ever.  You cannot raze a city so bad that it goes away.  Like, some study showed that between 1100 and 1800, only forty cities stopped existing.   I suppose that makes sense.  I mean, the fact of a city not existing is so powerful that we remember it forever: Atlantis, Babylon, whatever that one was that got volcanoed.  I’ve been wondering if New Orleans and Galveston will be the leading edge of a new era of cities vanishing.  We’ll know in a generation, I guess.

Well, there's always Carthage.  It can be done as long as you're single-minded enough about the project.  Next up is Mark Kleiman, exploding an urban myth about marijuana cultivation:

Cannabis is not "the largest cash crop in California." That zombie statistic has a history: during the collapse of the lumbering industry in the early 1980s, the Ag Department county extension agent in Humboldt County, which grows timber and pot, was so angry about the suffering he saw around him due to unemployment among loggers that when he filled out his annual estimates of crop-by-crop revenues for his county he listed pot as #1, using a completely made-up number. Dale Gieringer of California NORML then projected that out nationally to show that cannabis was the nation's #2 cash crop, ahead of soybeans but behind corn (or maybe it was the other way around.) Since then, another NORMALista named Michael Gettman has produced even more fantastic numbers. In fact, the Abt Associates estimate put the total retail value of the cannabis trade at about $10b, about 15% of the total illicit-drug trade. That's retail price, not farmgate price. And not all of that is grown domestically; some of it comes from Mexico, from Canada, and from Jamaica.

No special axe to grind on either one of these things.  Just thought I'd share.

UPDATE: Jeez, bust one urban legend and propagate another.  Bad blogger.  In comments, coyote says:

The myth about salting the earth, etc, for Carthage is just that — a myth. Yes, the Romans trashed it, but it was such a logical trading spot that it was rebuilt, and by 400 or 500 AD it was a wealthy city again.

OK, so Carthage doesn't count.  Or does it?  If you destroy a city, drive out all the people, reduce everything to rubble, and then repopulate it a few decades later with your own people, is it really the same city?  Or is it a different city of the same name in the same place?  Hmmm.  Is there a philosopher in the house?  Did Shakespeare really write all those plays?  Or some other guy named Shakespeare?